You and your partner are standing in the doorway of the home where you welcomed two children. You grew up nearby. One of you is a chef, the other a business person. You have sold all your belongings except for what you carry in the suitcases each of your family members hold. You have already said good bye to the rest of your family and friends. You close the door of your house behind you and you don’t turn back.
This is the story of Yamila and Lucas, who left behind their former lives in a suburb of Buenos Aires to pursue a dream in Norwalk, CT. Their dream is about better opportunity, embodied in the nutritious and healthful food they want to offer to the community.
This story is about beautiful artisanal food, but also the hard work required to build a new life. A friend of mine posted on Facebook that “to emigrate is to die so that you can be reborn.” I think this succinctly captures the loss, pain, and opportunity that immigrants face.
As modern-day stories go, I met Yami and Lucas via Instagram. I had come across their beautiful photos of bread, and as a bread lover, I could not look away. I started following them on Instagram and Facebook. One day, I asked for a meeting and they generously agreed. We spoke mostly in Spanish. The quotes included in this piece are my attempted translations.
Yamila is a chef by training and passion. “I love gastronomy and have worked in it since I was 17.” In Argentina, she ran the original Yami’s Bakery. In her “old” life, Yami catered large events and created artistic pastries. Lucas is a business man, who worked at large multinational companies in Buenos Aires.
In Norwalk, they have unglamorous “day jobs” typical of other early immigrants, which they carry out “with happiness” they tell me. On evenings, weekends, and other non-work hours, they have launched a new version of Yami’s Bakery here to bring healthful food to others.
While Yami is a well-rounded chef, pastry chef, and caterer, the new Yami’s Bakery is focused on sourdough bread, called “masa madre” in Spanish. Yami and Lucas say that the documentary Cooked partially influenced this choice. “We became curious” about the role of bread in nutrition, Lucas told me, and “from there, we started researching.”
It became clear to Yami and Lucas that bread’s bad reputation in this “low carb, gluten free” world comes partially from the complicated and unnecessary ingredients in commercially sold bread, which can have more than 30 ingredients. Instead, Yami’s bakery focuses only on four simple and natural ingredients: flour, salt, water, and sourdough starter, with some additions like cranberries and nuts for specific loaves. “We want to return to the roots of how bread used to be made,” Yami says.
Of their roles in their new business, Yami playfully says, “I am the labor, and he is the brains.” Given their busy lives, and the long process of bread making, the labor is more evenly divided. Yami prepares all the loaves and Lucas tends to the baking. Lucas is also the amazing photographer and social media guru for the business. In fact, I handed him my phone and asked him to take most of the pictures I am posting with this piece!
Making beautiful delicious bread is not easy, especially when you are in a new place. “Everything is different here,” Yami says, “even the water.” Yami spent weeks experimenting to find the best ingredients and methods for baking bread. She eventually settled on a favorite flour brand, but jokingly said she would only share the brand with an endorsement deal.
Yami and Lucas made their own sourdough starter back in December. This is the starter used for all their breads. “You need good gluten for good bread,” Yami says. Their resulting sourdough masterpieces clearly demonstrate that Yami’s starter is not just “good” gluten, but great gluten.
“We have dedicated ourselves to the seriousness of making good bread,” Lucas tells me. Each step of the process requires careful attention. Their cooking process involves cooking loaves at different temperatures for different intervals of time, and introducing moisture. “Moisture is critical,” Lucas tells me. Including rising times, a loaf of bread can take up to 22 hours to complete from start to finish. Often, they don’t end their days until 1:00 am. They still have to get up for their day jobs in the morning, but they don’t mind the sacrifices: “This is our future,” Lucas says.
While still starting out, Yami’s Bakery has more than 700 followers on Instagram, and a growing base of customers, who Yami and Lucas like to meet. Right now, that includes me! I have tasted all of their breads: the white sourdough, the whole wheat sourdough, the cranberry nut sourdough, and the brioche. They are all delicious. The brioche is almost too delicious and I had to hide it to keep from eating an entire loaf in one day. Yami mused that “no one still has brioche left after a couple of days.” I can attest to that!
Lucas taught me about the irregular holes in the sourdough bread, which reflect the balance of air, moisture, and heat in the cooking process. The bigger the holes, the better, he tells me. Who knew? They do make the bread look extra yummy.
Yami also makes yogurt and beautiful cakes and pastries. She was recently crowned “Cake Boss” at a local event. “We like to experiment,” Lucas tells me. He has been making pizza and plans to build a special clay oven soon. Yami can also see a future that involves a food truck, “I like [the idea of] selling in motion.”
Aside from running their own business, and working day jobs, Yami and Lucas are raising two young children, learning English, and adjusting to life in a new country. Their work ethic, commitment to success, and positive attitude are apparent in everything they do. They are an inspiration and a reminder about the motivation, drive, and talent that makes this country thrive. You can follow Yami’s Bakery on Instagram or Facebook. If you would like a loaf, send them a message (they deliver too)!